2006 Jaguar XJ Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Nothing says class and luxury quite like an XJ.
The Jaguar XJ remains one of the best luxury cars you can buy. It also appears to be one of the best values, at least in terms of price paid for the luxury it exudes. When a Jaguar XJ rolls up, it makes a statement of true luxury.
The XJ is a truly beautiful luxury car, with lithe, elegant lines that ooze class and sex appeal, and its luxurious cabin is swathed in rich leathers and warm woods. Underway, it's quiet, smooth, stately, and powerful and it handles quite well. The XJ is far easier to operate than the German cars, namely the BMW 7 Series, the Audi A8, and the Mercedes S-Class, all of which have become so burdened with technology that can serve to annoy and frustrate drivers unfamiliar with their complex controls. Plus, the Jaguars cost less than the comparable German models. The 2006 Lexus LS 430 offers many of these assets, though it isn't as easy to operate as the Jag nor does it make a statement of true luxury and class the way the British marque does. That bit about true luxury applies to the Cadillac STS as well; the Cadillac just doesn't have the snob appeal of the Jaguar. In short, nothing says true luxury quite like a Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas. Roll up to a five-star hotel in one of these and you'll be treated like royalty.
The XJs come in regular and long-wheelbase versions. The long-wheelbase models offer enough rear-seat room to recline and watch a movie while having lunch on a flip-down wooden tray, all coddled in rich wood and leather. Though stretched five inches, these longer and roomier Jaguars are for practical purposes just as quick, just as nimble and just as fuel-efficient as the standard-length versions.
Though easy to operate, the XJ models are stuffed with sophisticated technology, but it's tucked out of the way so the driver benefits from the technology without being annoyed or distracted by it.
The Jaguar XJ8 was launched as an all-new model for 2003, along with the high-performance XJR. Both were greatly improved, offering superior ride and handling to their predecessors thanks to their rigid lightweight aluminum structure and computer-controlled double-wishbone suspensions. The long-wheelbase XJ8 L, Vanden Plas and Super V8 followed. For 2006, a new limited-edition Super V8 Portfolio, a super-luxurious model, joins the line.
All of the 2006 XJ models benefit from a number of upgrades, including more powerful engines, a new braking system, laminated glass for improved noise isolation, a driver-selectable automatic speed limiter, and a new tire pressure monitoring system. The chrome mesh grilles from the R models are now seen on all models for 2006, while new smoked-lens side markers and the removal of body-side and front/rear window moldings give all models a fresh appearance. A new navigation system comes standard on XJR and Vanden Plas models, and an electric rear sunblind is fitted to every XJ8 L.
The Jaguar XJ series comprises six models, all built on a platform that makes extensive use of lightweight but strong aluminum architecture. Three XJs are powered by 4.2-liter V8 engines. The XJR and Super V8 models are supercharged. The XJ8 and XJR are built on the standard 119.4-inch wheelbase. The XJ8L, Vanden Plas, and Super 8 are built on a longer 124.4-inch wheelbase that stretches the overall length of the vehicle from the standard 200.4 inches to 205.3 inches.
The XJ8 ($61,830) comes standard with a long list of luxury features. Its 4.2-liter V8 is uprated to 300 horsepower (up from 294 horsepower) and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The self-leveling air suspension, the CATS adaptive suspension damping, dynamic stability control, xenon headlamps, power-adjustable foot pedals, an electronic parking brake, and reverse park assist all come standard. Also standard are leather upholstery, power 12-way adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, and an eight-speaker stereo and CD player.
The XJ8 L ($64,330) is equipped like the XJ8 but offers more room in its back seat as well as an electric rear sunblind.
The Vanden Plas ($74,330) is the quintessential luxury Jaguar, offering all the equipment of the XJ8 L but richly trimmed with a twin-stitched leather dashboard, burl walnut trim with Peruvian boxwood inlays, lambs wool rugs, 16-way power front seats, three-stage heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel, rear fold-down picnic trays, and a 320-watt Alpine premium audio system.
The XJR ($79,930) is a high-performance model built on the standard wheelbase and powered by a supercharged version of the V8 engine that's been upgraded to pump out 400 horsepower (up from 390). The XJR also gets a firmer suspension and larger Brembo brakes, bigger wheels and tires, R Performance 16-way driver/12-way passenger sports seats with perforated leather inserts, R Performance leather and chrome shift knob, radar-based adaptive cruise control, a 320-watt Alpine Premium audio system, and newly designed 19-inch Sabre alloys wheels with Z-rated performance tires.
The Super V8 ($91,330) has the same supercharged powertrain as the XJR but puts it on the longer wheelbase and adds four-zone climate control, a DVD-based touch-screen navigation system, DVD-based rear multimedia entertainment system with two display screens, an electrically adjustable rear seat, electric and manual rear door sunblinds, Bluetooth wireless technology, Custom alloy wheels with Z-rated tires, and front parking sensors. The CATS adaptive damping system is tuned for a Touring ride.
The Super V8 Portfolio ($115,330) begins a new line of super-luxurious Jaguars. Portfolio rides on the long wheelbase and is powered by the 400-horsepower supercharged V8. Exterior revisions include aluminum side vents, larger chrome-finished tailpipes, polished 20-inch Callisto alloy wheels and special Black Cherry or Winter Gold paint. Inside is special soft-grain leather upholstery with seat piping, satin-finished black walnut wood trim, suede-like headliner, pillars and sunvisors, aluminum J-gate surround, individual power-adjusted rear seats separated by a center console, and a 400-watt 15-speaker Alpine surround-sound stereo system.
Options for the XJ8 and XJ8 L include a heated seat package ($950); a Cold Climate Package ($1,250) with front and rear heated seats and a heated wood and leather steering wheel. Options for Vanden Plas and XJR models include a Warm Climate Package ($1,350) with four-zone air conditioning and manual rear side sunblinds and a Multimedia Package ($2,950). Other options include special wheels, Front Park Control ($250), Bluetooth wireless connectivity ($500), and Sirius Satellite Radio ($450).
Safety features that come standard on all models include frontal, side-impact and side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control.
The XJ looks as though it's ready to pounce even when it's standing still. And there's no mistaking it for anything other than a Jaguar.
The hood has the traditional curves that flow back from the top edges of four small, round headlights. The wide grille protrudes forward slightly and the leaping jaguar, called the Leaper, sits on top of the hood. The rear is uncluttered and features the iconic triangular taillight clusters.
From the side, the XJ has a high belt line, the trend at least partly because people feel safer with taller side panels. This makes the side windows appear shallower. The windshield is set at a modern, raked angle. The subtle way in which the belt line edges up as it goes to the back gives the car a purposefully crouched look.
New touches freshen the exterior for 2006. The XJR's chrome mesh grille inserts are used across the line, making every XJ look sporty. However, the R models will be distinguished by a body-color surround for its mesh grille.
The Jaguar XJ cabin exudes class and good taste. It's richly trimmed in leather and wood. Plastic is hard to find. Yes, that's real burr walnut veneer on the fascia, center console and door panels.
The dashboard sweeps across the whole car in a fairly high position. Three gauges are clustered in front of the steering wheel. The center stack features a seven-inch LCD touch screen for managing climate, audio and navigation functions. Jaguar has made the controls as easy to operate as possible and has avoided the temptation to include a host of gee-whiz computer controls. Unlike other cars in this class, the XJ does not demand careful study of the owner's manual to turn on the radio or adjust the climate.
The adjustable foot pedals can be moved up to 2.5 inches at the touch of a switch. Coupled with the 12- or 16-way adjustable front seat, they allow any size driver to find a perfectly comfortable seating option.
The Vanden Plas gets a plusher interior with softer leather, lambs wool carpets and a power rear window blind. The front seats have 16 positions instead of 12. The XJR and Super V8 get a sportier interior with seats offering extra support. They also have less wood trim.
Today's XJ8 and XJR feature roomy cabins. The long-wheelbase versions take advantage of the car being lengthened by five inches behind the B-pillars (between the front and rear doors) for increased rear seat room. The rear seatback reclines. Plus there's a switch provided for the person riding in the right-rear seat to power the front passenger's seat forward. This allows plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy such things as wooden picnic trays that flip down from the backs of the front seats. The Super V8 Portfolio's cabin is distinctive for having two bucket seats in back, separated by a large center console that houses storage areas as well as the controls for the rear climate system.
The rear seat entertainment system features two 6.5-inch LCD monitors embedded in the back of the front seat headrests. A comprehensive control panel located in the rear center armrest operates them independently from the front and from each other. One person can be watching a DVD while the other can watch input directly from a video game or camcorder.
The Jaguar XJ benefits from an all-aluminum monocoque. Although the new body, introduced in 2004, is larger than the previous generation's, it weighs 400 pounds less. That's equivalent to removing the weight of more than two passengers. Even the long-wheelbase version adds back only 53 pounds. Those who might be concerned that an aluminum body is not as strong as a steel body can rest assured that this body is just fine. Like the shell of an airplane, the Jaguar's body is riveted (with about 3200 rivets) and bonded (with 120 yards of adhesive) to form an immensely stiff body shell that meets or exceeds all safety standards. Perhaps more important, the body is 60-percent stiffer than the one it replaces. This rigidity and absence of weight lead to a better handling car.
Toss this big car into a tight corner on a narrow winding road and you'll find it tenaciously hugs the road surface with nary a complaint. It's just what one would expect from British engineers who learned at an early age how to drive fast along those narrow country lanes. It's no wonder the world's fastest racecars are built in England.
The power steering is precise without being too heavy and the new XJ goes where it's aimed. The tires stay glued to the road thanks to the double-wishbone suspension design and Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) that continuously and instantly adjusts damping. CATS ensures stability whether the car is undergoing heavy acceleration, hard braking, or traversing an undulating road. During several hundred miles of driving on a variety of different roads and surfaces we found the car was stable and handled predictably at all times, and it didn't matter whether we were in the standard or long-wheelbase versions. The only intrusive element to the smooth ride was a bit more vibration through the steering column than is expected in a super luxury car.
These cars are quick. The XJ8 with its 300-horsepower V8 engine can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.3 seconds, according to Jaguar. The V8 engine delivers good low-end torque so power is instantly available. And it offers good fuel economy for the class, with an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg City/Highway.
Shifting is seamless thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission. Jaguar's J-gate transmission allows you to flick the lever to the left and manually shift gears, if you wish. In reality, there's enough power and the electronic brain controlling the gearbox does such a good job that shifting manually seems superfluous.
Super V8 and XJR models boast a supercharger that forces air into the engine, producing 400 horsepower. This propels the XJR from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, according to Jaguar, very quick indeed. These rocket ships also get a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and fat 19-inch tires that grip the road and sharpen the steering response. Amazingly, the ride is not too harsh despite the short sidewalls. But it is the whine of the supercharger as you press the gas pedal that sets the XJR and Super V8 apart from the rest of the pack. The supercharged XJs face no gas guzzler penalty.
Brakes on the XJ models, which were already powerful and smooth, are improved on 2006 models with larger front and rear rotors. Supercharged models get a new Conti-Teves R Performance system with ventilated front rotors for 2006. The XJ has an electronic parking brake; a lever switch is pulled to set it and it's automatically deactivated when drive or reverse is engaged, an elegant setup.
The Jaguar XJ models are comparable to the best luxury cars in the world. The XJ is a beautiful car that swaths its occupants in traditional British luxury with rich wood and leather while sparing us of gadgetry. Its rigid chassis and sophisticated suspension offer a smooth ride and impressively good grip. The long-wheelbase versions offer more interior without trade-offs, and the Portfolio edition raises Jaguar's profile among the ultra-luxury cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall reported from Phoenix, with Greg Brown in Las Vegas, Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles, and John Rettie in Santa Barbara, California.
Jaguar XJ8 ($61,830); XJ8 L ($64,330); Vanden Plas ($74,330); XJR ($79,930); Super V8 ($91,330); Super V8 Portfolio ($115,330).
Options As Tested
Jaguar XJ Super V8 Portfolio ($115,330).
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